Interview questions drafted by Anton Symons, Mark Han, and Miguel Galsim, Written by Mark Han
Andrew Leigh MP is the incumbent federal parliamentary representative for the Division of Fraser. First elected in 2010 in the safe Labor seat, Leigh currently serves as the Shadow Assistant Treasurer and Shadow Minister of Competition. Between 2004 until his election in 2010, he was an economics academic at the ANU, making him one of the few parliamentarians to have an intimate understanding of both our university and city.
One of the most pertinent issues which Leigh has campaigned heavily for is housing affordability, a key election battleground. An economist by trade, Leigh has been a staunch supporter of removing negative gearing to deflate the housing bubble.
“Not in my lifetime have such a small share of Australians owned their home.” he said.
“Labor is doing what independent economists have been saying for many years needs to be done. Curtailing negative gearing and the capital gains tax discount.”
When asked about the claims that removing negative gearing could increase rental prices, Leigh raised the fact the Hawke government’s negative gearing reform in 1985 (which was later abandoned in 1987) did not affect rental prices. “The simple fact is a more radical change (to negative gearing) didn’t affect rents. One could have held that view before 1985, but to hold it now is in complete defiance of the facts,” he added.
Regarding youth unemployment, Leigh was a bit more conciliatory in tone. Responding to the PaTH program, the Coalition’s work-for-the-dole proposal to slash youth unemployment by subsidising businesses to take in young interns for 12 weeks, Leigh said, “The Liberal Party is responding to a felt need in the local communities that there is high youth unemployment and there are particular areas where it is gut-wrenchingly high,”
However, he was wary of the PaTH program’s susceptibility to abuse, citing unpaid internships in performing arts, banking land law sectors in the United States. Also, Leigh was unconvinced by the proposed benefits the PaTH program could reap.
“We have good evaluation showing that people involved in work for the dole were more likely to stay unemployed.”
Are these [PaTH] internships going to act acting as stepping stones or dead ends? We have to have good evaluation and more information than the government has put on the table at the moment.” he continued.
Leigh also elaborated on Labor’s lesser known Youth Jobs Connect policy which aims to improve career counselling and education for young Australians. He conceded that Australia could manage economic transitions better, looking towards Germany as an example of good labour management during times of transition.
Always the thinker, Leigh then shared his philosophy on jobs and technology, “I always think about inequality as a race between technology and education. If education stagnates and technology runs ahead then you get a situation where a lot of jobs are more computerised and technical but people don’t have the skills to do them,” he mused.
As a former lecturer, Leigh has a better grasp of the tertiary education system than many of his parliamentary colleagues. His stance on tertiary deregulation is heavily influenced by Bruce Chapman, one of the primary architects of the HECS system we have today.
“When Bruce says he is worried that (deregulation) could take us into uncharted territory and might deter low income Australians from attending universities I sit up and take that very seriously,” he said.
The worries about uncharted territory are fueled partly by the British. When university fees caps were raised in the United Kingdom, universities did not compete on price, but instead consumers thought the cheaper degree as inferior compared to a more expensive one, according to Leigh.
The former ANU professor is also unsurprisingly a passionate advocate for significant increases for university funding to benefit research of all kinds, not just applied research. Leigh lamented the shortfall in research and education in no uncertain terms. “All of the funding sources for researchers are at threat by a government which seems to want to less research. I get worried when I hear the Prime Minister saying: it’s all about applied research, it’s all about making sure people are creating things that have an immediate business payoff.”
Leigh then continued, in a fashion not too dissimilar to Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau explanation of quantum computing: “How did the CSIRO create Wi-Fi? They were playing around with a thing in maths called fast Fourier transformations, a fairly abstract notion. They weren’t gunning for an applied outcome, they were exploring in the basic research space, a place where the best research can be found often.”
Leigh also had an interesting bit to say about his Shadow Treasurer’s (Chris Bowen’s) beard which emerged over last summer. “I did a paper on beauty in politicians when I was an academic, and one of the very clear irregularities out of (the paper) was that people rated other people with beards as much less attractive.”
Chris Bowen’s beard was shaven a mere two days later the interview, possibly heeding Leigh’s advice.
Anton Symons is a member of the Liberal Party, Mark Han is a former member of the Liberal Party